Tag Archives: Captain

Premier League Files: David Wheater

Premier League Career: Middlesbrough (2006-2009), Bolton Wanderers (2011-2012)

A product of the youth system at Middlesbrough, David Wheater hasn’t played Premier League football since experiencing relegation with Bolton Wanderers in 2012. He remains with the Trotters now, captaining the side in very difficult financial times for the club with relegation to League One recently just confirmed. However, he is a wise experienced head which is just what the club needs at this time.

Wheater’s youth days saw him part of the successful Middlesbrough team that won the 2004 FA Youth Cup; a year after losing the same event to Manchester United. Promoted to the Boro first-team at the age of just 17, he was given his Premier League debut by Steve McClaren in the 2005-2006 campaign. Loan spells did follow at Doncaster Rovers, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Darlington which produced mixed fortunes but Wheater was ready for a more regular role in 2007-2008, starting the club’s opening day defeat to Blackburn Rovers.

David’s form in 2007-2008 was so impressive; his manager Gareth Southgate was more than happy to sell the more experienced Jonathan Woodgate to Tottenham Hotspur in the 2008 January transfer window. He would score four goals in that campaign and won the North East Football Writers’ Association Young Player of the Year for his efforts.

He made another 32 appearances in 2008-2009 but Middlesbrough were relegated at the end of the campaign. Nevertheless, he stayed with the aim of getting the Teesiders back to the top-flight at the first attempt. Sadly, it didn’t quite work out for him and for the club. That summer, injury meant he missed out on the 2009 Under-21 European Championship after playing a prominent role for England and manager Stuart Pearce in the qualification period. He was called up a couple of times into the senior squad during Fabio Capello’s reign but never managed to make it onto the pitch to win a maiden senior international cap.

Southgate made him captain at the start of the new club season with Middlesbrough despite being just 22 but he was sacked early into the 2009-2010 campaign and when his successor was named, Gordon Strachan, he elected to give the armband to the more experienced Gary O’Neil.

Wheater continued to concentrate on his football and this actually made him a tougher player. Bolton Wanderers were impressed with his shrewd displays in the Championship and in January 2011, a deal was concluded for David to return to the Premier League, joining Bolton for an undisclosed fee. His Bolton league debut came a month later, coming on as a first half substitute for Zat Knight in the 2-0 home win over Everton.

The 2011-2012 campaign was not a good one for Wheater as he received two red cards in the first half of Bolton’s testing campaign. His first dismissal came in a defeat at Arsenal in September for holding back Theo Walcott. This was in his first league start of the season. In November, a foul on Everton winger Diniyar Bilyaletdinov was adjudged to be dangerous by Michael Oliver, who gave him a straight red card. Consequently, Wheater missed the next four Premier League engagements.

His last Premier League appearance came later that season in Bolton’s 2-2 home draw with West Bromwich Albion. In what was the Trotters’ final home match of the season, they threw away a two-goal lead and ultimately, it proved very costly as they were relegated a week later. It had bigger repercussions for Wheater though. He ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and was ruled out of action for nine months.

He returned in February 2013 and extended his contract at the end of the 2012-2013 season as the Lancashire side narrowly missed out on landing a play-off position in the Championship. At the end of the 2015-2016 season, Bolton were relegated to League One. Naturally, as he was on higher wages than most of his teammates, Wheater wasn’t offered a new deal and was subsequently released. However, he continued to train with Bolton that summer and after appearing as ‘a trialist’ in first-team pre-season friendlies, the club offered him a new deal with a significant pay cut, something Wheater was more than happy to accept.

He scored an impressive nine goals from centre-back as Bolton were promoted back to the Championship at the first attempt. He was voted as the club’s Player of the Season and was voted into the PFA League One Team of the Season alongside his defensive colleague, Mark Beevers. He signed a contract extension that summer and his only goal in 2017-2018 was a massive one for Phil Parkinson’s team. It was an equaliser in the final day 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest which kept Bolton in the second-tier at the expense of Barnsley and Burton Albion.

He was appointed skipper at the start of the 2018-2019 season, succeeding the departing Darren Pratley. It hasn’t been a joyous campaign for anyone at the club, with constant threats about administration and unpaid wages to players and staff. Wheater though has been one of Bolton’s more senior pros and done a good job in difficult circumstances.


Premier League Files: Olof Mellberg

Premier League Career: Aston Villa (2001-2008)

Olof Mellberg was a leader and a strong part of the Aston Villa Premier League sides in the first decade of the 21st century. A strong and committed defender, few got the better of Mellberg in aerial challenges during his seven-season stay in the Premier League. He had a lengthy spell as skipper of the Villans during David O’Leary’s reign as manager and also was a figurehead for his country, winning 117 caps for Sweden.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Mellberg started to focus full-time on football. Growing up, he preferred tennis and had dreams of becoming the next Swedish sensation at Wimbledon rather than the World Cup. It came in a period where Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg enjoyed Grand Slam success for the Swedish nation.

After playing for his local side Gullspång, he had spells in the Swedish Premiership with Degerfors IF and AIK Solna, winning the championship with the latter in 1998. His first move on foreign shores was to Spain, becoming a pivotal figure at the heart of the backline for Racing Santander. After a slightly rocky beginning to his time there, Olof settled down and his promise saw him linked with higher-profile Spanish clubs, including Barcelona and Valencia.

However, it was Aston Villa who agreed a fee with Racing in the region of £5 million in the summer of 2001. Mellberg started 32 of the club’s 38 Premier League fixtures in 2001-2002 and started a relationship that means he is still considered as one of Aston Villa’s finest Premier League players. There were difficult moments. In September 2002, it was Mellberg’s throw-in back to goalkeeper Peter Enckleman which was horrendously miscontrolled by the Finn and ended up in the back of the net in the first-ever Premier League Second City Derby.

David O’Leary became Villa manager in the summer of 2003 and actually left Mellberg out of his team to play Portsmouth in his first fixture as boss. There was speculation that he would leave following this omission but Villa lost that day at Fratton Park and Mellberg was quickly recalled in his usual centre-back role. O’Leary would go on to make him captain and it was a role Mellberg held until his departure in 2006. During that time, the Midlands club finished sixth in the Premier League and reached the League Cup semi-finals.

Martin O’Neill arrived as O’Leary’s replacement and Mellberg felt it was the right time to relinquish the captaincy to local lad, Gareth Barry. In August 2006, Aston Villa were the first-ever visitors to Arsenal’s new ground and Mellberg’s second half header meant he became the first player to score in a competitive fixture at The Emirates Stadium.

At the start of the 2007-2008 season, O’Neill signed Zat Knight from Fulham and elected to play him alongside Martin Laursen at centre-back. Mellberg moved into a more unfamiliar right-back role. He was the consummate professional and did the job required with the minimum of fuss. However, with his contract running down and now, not playing in his most common role, Olof elected not to extend his contract.

In January 2008, he signed a pre-contract agreement with Juventus. On his final game for the club against West Ham United, Mellberg made a brilliant gesture by buying a shirt with his name and number on the back with the message ‘Thanks 4 Your Support’ for every fan who attended the fixture at Upton Park. This went down as a highly-thoughtful and appreciated gesture from a player who always gave his maximum to the cause for the Villans.

After his Premier League life, Mellberg spent one season with Juventus before joining Olympiacos in June 2009. He won two league championships in Greece and became one of the most well-known and respected players in Greece due to his high professionalism values. After helping Villarreal regain their top-flight status in Spain in 2012-2013, he spent one final season back in Scandinavia playing for FC Copenhagen before hanging up his boots. He has also enjoyed a spell in his homeland as a manager too, guiding Brommapojkarna to back-to-back promotions before resigning in October 2017.

On the international stage, Mellberg played at two World Cup finals and four European Championship tournaments. He skippered his country to the round-of-16 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and scored twice in the EURO 2012 group stage game against England, although the Three Lions recovered from a 2-1 deficit to win the game 3-2.

A passionate player who was a fans favourite with all of his clubs, Olof Mellberg is widely considered as one of the best Scandinavian players to have figured in the Premier League.

Premier League Files: Kevin Nolan

Premier League Career: Bolton Wanderers (2001-2009), Newcastle United (2009), (2010-2011), West Ham United (2012-2015)

Kevin Nolan enjoyed a successful playing career in the Premier League. He has scored winning goals at Old Trafford, captained all three of the sides he played for in the top-flight and also has two Premier League hat-tricks to his name. Nolan represented England at Under-21 level but despite his name being often linked with a senior call-up, he never earned a cap for The Three Lions. In fact, he holds the unfortunate record of making the most Premier League appearances without winning international recognition from England.

Growing up in the Toxteth area of Liverpool where goalscoring legend Robbie Fowler was born, Nolan’s desire from an early age was to become a footballer. Although the teams he followed at a young age were his boyhood club Liverpool FC and Celtic, his favourite players were the Manchester United pair, Eric Cantona and Lee Sharpe. He signed for Bolton Wanderers at the age of 16.

In 2001, Nolan helped Sam Allardyce’s Trotters defeat Preston North End 3-0 in the First Division play-off final at The Millennium Stadium. He immediately became an integral part of the Bolton side returning to the Premier League after three seasons away. On the opening day of the 2001-2002 campaign, Nolan scored twice as Bolton made a fabulous start, winning 5-0 away at Leicester City. Two months later, he scored an equalising goal in the club’s surprising win at Old Trafford. He finished with eight goals as Bolton finished 16th to beat the Premier League drop for the first time.

The 2002-2003 campaign was personally a disappointment for Nolan as he only added one more goal to his tally. However, it was a priceless one. He capitalised on a mistake from David Beckham to score at Old Trafford for the second successive campaign. This time, it was the matchwinning strike to spearhead Bolton to a 1-0 victory. It was an important result too, as they only avoided relegation at the end of the season by two points. There was a marked improvement in both player and club form in 2003-2004. Bolton finished in a tremendous 8th place in the table and reached the League Cup final. Nolan scored a career-best 12 goals in all competitions as his influence continued to grow on Allardyce’s ever-improving side.

When Jay-Jay Okocha left The Reebok Stadium in 2006, Nolan’s impact was recognised even further when he was appointed as Okocha’s replacement in the team captaincy role. He made 323 league appearances for the club, scoring a host of crucial goals in Bolton’s maiden European adventures but by January 2009, fans were unhappy with his drop in performances. Without a goal and saddened by the criticism considering the service he’d given to Bolton, Kevin left to join Newcastle United in a £4 million move.

His move to Tyneside didn’t start well. A month after his arrival, he received a red card in a goalless draw with Everton for a horrendous two-footed challenge on Victor Anichebe which left the Nigerian out of action for several months with a serious knee injury. Newcastle were relegated at the end of the season and all of a sudden, Nolan was back in the Football League. However, he didn’t seek a transfer and took responsibility for the club’s drop into the second-tier. He was widely praised for his efforts in the 2009-2010 season. He scored 18 goals, including the first hat-trick of his club career in an away victory against Ipswich Town. His performances earned him the honour of the Championship Player of the Year and Newcastle earned promotion back to the top-flight as champions.

With Nicky Butt retiring in the summer of 2010, Nolan was given the captain’s armband on Newcastle’s return to the Premier League and scored twice in the club’s first home match back in the top-flight as Aston Villa were thrashed 6-0. Two months later, he enjoyed arguably the greatest day of his career, scoring a hat-trick in the Tyne & Wear Derby as Newcastle enjoyed a memorable 5-1 success over bitter rivals Sunderland.

So it was a surprise to see Nolan leave Newcastle in the summer of 2011 and return to the Championship, linking up with his former manager Allardyce at West Ham United on a five-year contract. With Matthew Upson moving on to Stoke City following the Hammers’ relegation from the top-flight, Nolan was immediately handed the captain’s armband and he led the team to an instant return to the Premier League. Promotion was secured via the play-offs.

Back in the Premier League for 2012-2013, Nolan scored in all of West Ham’s first three home games of the season, including a stoppage-time equaliser to rescue a 1-1 draw with Sunderland. In April, he scored the 100th goal of his career and he wrapped up his season in style with a final day treble in a 4-2 victory over already relegated Reading. That meant that for the fourth season running, he achieved double figures in terms of league goals. 2013-2014 was less rewarding and West Ham’s form wasn’t great either as they struggled to find any consistency. Two quick red cards in the winter months in away losses to Liverpool FC and Fulham suggested frustration was creeping into Nolan’s game. Allardyce’s response was to fine him two weeks wages and warn him that any further misconduct would see him removed of the captaincy. He still ended as the club’s top scorer but it wasn’t a happy season and his time at West Ham which started so well was ending on a downer.

His last game for the club came in August 2015 against AFC Bournemouth. With West Ham 2-0 down at half-time, he was replaced by Matt Jarvis and it was the last time he would figure in the Premier League. Five days later, he left the club via mutual consent, having played 157 times in all competitions for the Hammers. Nolan moved into management five months later, taking a player-manager role at Leyton Orient who were struggling in League Two. In January 2017, he took over at Notts County and led them to the League Two play-off final last season where they were pipped to promotion by Coventry City. After a wretched start to the 2018-2019 campaign, Nolan parted company with the oldest football club in England on 26th August, replaced by Australian Harry Kewell, who has since also being relieved of his duties.

Management has already shown bumps in the road but Kevin Nolan had a knack of being in the right place at the right time as a player. He was a leader in all of the dressing rooms he walked into, was never afraid of a challenge and a serial goalscorer for all of the teams he represented in the top-flight.

Great Goals: Jordan Henderson – Chelsea vs. LIVERPOOL FC (September 2016)

Midfielder Jordan Henderson was always going to find it tough replacing the inspirational Steven Gerrard as captain of Liverpool Football Club. However, he has done it his own way and whilst he might not produce the fireworks Gerrard used to serve time and time again, Henderson is a solid and strong presence in the Reds midfield line.

The skipper produced this brilliant goal in September 2016 against Chelsea. From an attacking throw-in, Gary Cahill’s clearance fell straight into Henderson’s path. He took a touch to get the ball out of his feet and had a quick look at his target. He then bent a beautiful curling shot into the top corner of Thibaut Courtois’ goal. It was a marvellous goal and it won Goal of the Month honours for September 2016.

Liverpool FC won 2-1 and were one of only two sides to beat Antonio Conte’s champions-elect at Stamford Bridge during the 2016-2017 season.

Premier League Files: Jay-Jay Okocha

Premier League Career: Bolton Wanderers (2002-2006)

Jay-Jay Okocha was one of the stars of the Premier League in the early 2000s. His flair, panache and skill made him a player who could often do amazing things on the football pitch. Widely regarded as the best Nigerian player of his generation, Okocha enjoyed a wonderful time on English shores for four seasons as a Bolton Wanderers player.

Okocha won 75 international caps for Nigeria and is one of the most iconic African players of all-time. He played at three World Cup finals, reaching the round-of-16 in both 1994 and 1998. He was also part of the Nigeria squad that stunned Argentina to win the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta in the football competition. Football runs through Okocha’s DNA. In fact, his nephew is Alex Iwobi who currently plays in the Premier League for Arsenal and is now a Nigerian international himself.

He started his career in Germany and joined Eintracht Frankfurt in December 1991. Frankfurt might have not won any Bundesliga titles but were a thrilling team to watch and often finished in the higher positions in the table. Okocha played alongside Ghanaian hotshot Tony Yeboah, Norway’s Jørn Andersen and midfielder Maurizio Gaudino. Frankfurt finished third in 1993 and fifth in 1994 and Okocha won Goal of the Year too in 1993 for a mesmerising dribbling strike against Karlsruher SC.

In 1995, Okocha spectacularly fell out with coach Jupp Heynckes who also took a dislike to Yeboah and Gaudino. The latter pair moved on to pastures new in English football whilst Okocha stuck around until 1996 but Frankfurt’s first-ever relegation from the top-flight meant he would leave the Bundesliga behind and join Fenerbahce that summer.

He scored 30 times in 62 games across two seasons for the Turkish side and would become a Turkish citizen too before switching to Paris Saint-Germain in 1998, spending £14 million to acquire this gifted talent. By now, Okocha had a fearsome reputation as one of the best direct set-piece takers in world football. His time in PSG was more frustrating. They won the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 2001 but league success eluded Jay-Jay, who did at least pass on his experience and talent to a young Brazilian superstar by the name of Ronaldinho during his four-year stay in the French capital.

After the 2002 World Cup, Okocha moved to Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer. It was seen as a wonderful coup for a club that were always likely to be fighting a relegation battle. He sparkled at his new challenge, scoring seven times including the club’s Goal of the Season winner against relegation rivals West Ham United in April 2003. On the final day of the season, a trademark free-kick helped Bolton to victory over Middlesbrough that ensured their Premier League survival at West Ham’s expense. In the celebrations that followed, Okocha taught his manager Sam Allardyce some of his dancing moves which went down well with all the supporters at The Reebok Stadium.

Allardyce appointed Okocha as the club’s new captain in the summer of 2003 following the retirement of long-serving defender Gudni Bergsson. He led the club to their first cup final in nine years, scoring two breathtaking goals in the League Cup semi-final defeat of Aston Villa. Bolton faced Middlesbrough at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium but came up short on the day, losing 2-1. Amazingly, Okocha failed to score a single league goal in the campaign but that wasn’t for the worth of trying. He ended his drought on the opening weekend of 2004-2005, scoring twice in the 4-1 victory over Charlton Athletic. Another four goals followed as Bolton achieved their highest finish in the Premier League, ending sixth in the final standings.

His final season saw the Nigerian removed of the captaincy in November 2005. His head had been turned by a potential move to the Middle East and Allardyce elected to give the armband to Kevin Nolan. Okocha carried on playing but it was clear the spark had gone and he rejected a contract extension at the end of the season to go and play in Qatar. It was a slightly acrimonious departure and his relationship with Bolton supporters wasn’t helped six years later following their Premier League relegation when he said: “We laid a good foundation at Bolton but, unfortunately, for the fans, they have to deal with Bolton being a struggling team again.”

After one year in Qatar, he returned to the English game to conclude his career at Hull City, retiring at the end of the 2007-2008 campaign. He is currently Chairman of the Delta State Football Association and has also expressed previously a desire to become Nigerian Football Federation President in the past.

He was so good, he was named twice! Jay-Jay Okocha certainly didn’t do dull during his time in the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers.

Premier League Files: Dennis Wise

Premier League Career: Chelsea (1992-2001), Leicester City (2001-2002)

Before John Terry experienced his rich success as captain of Chelsea, their most successful leader in the pre-Abramovich era was Dennis Wise. The tough-tackling, no-nonsense central midfielder certainly got in the face of his opponents and never messed around in his 20-year career on the football pitch. Whilst third place in 1999 was the closest he got to in the league, Dennis won three FA Cups and experienced European glory through Chelsea’s 1998 triumph in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

Wise first made his name at Wimbledon, joining them at the age of 18 when he left Southampton after falling out with Lawrie McMenemy. Under the tutorage of Dave Bassett, he blossomed and immediately became an important part of ‘The Crazy Gang.’

He played a crucial role in Wimbledon’s run to the 1988 FA Cup final. After producing the delivery of the free-kick against Watford in the quarter-finals, he scored the winner to defeat Luton Town in the semi-finals. Wimbledon played Liverpool FC in the final and were given little chance of causing an upset but the Dons had other ideas. Wise did a wonderful job of containing John Barnes and then, it was his free-kick that was headed home into the net by Lawrie Sanchez. Wimbledon had just dashed Liverpool’s hopes of a second league and cup double.

He remained with Wimbledon until July 1990 when he switched from south to west London, joining Chelsea for a club-record fee at the time of £1.6 million. He impressed immediately, scoring 10 goals in 33 matches despite the Blues finishing mid-table. The arrival of his former teammate at Wimbledon, Vinnie Jones made the Chelsea centre midfield one of the toughest and hardest around in English football. In February 1992, he scored the winning goal at Anfield to spearhead the Londoners to their first win at the home of Liverpool FC in 57 years.

In the summer of 1993, Andy Townsend left for Aston Villa and on the arrival of Glenn Hoddle as manager, Wise was appointed as Townsend’s successor in the captaincy department. He made the FA Cup final again in his first campaign with the armband but this time, it was on the losing side as Chelsea lost 4-0 to Manchester United.

The 1994-1995 season was a miserable campaign for him. Form dipped on the pitch and ill-discipline was shown in the public eye when he was sent off at St James’ Park against Newcastle United for foul and abusive language in September 1994. This earned him a rebuke from Hoddle and he would briefly be stripped of the captaincy after an even further damaging incident in a season of shameful scandals.

In March 1995, Dennis was sentenced to a three-month jail sentence for assaulting a London taxi driver, also being forced to pay £1,200 in compensation. He was given an unconditional bail and eventually, the sentence was overturned on appeal. Many of his legal team were stunned by the sentence handed down and Chelsea stood by him. Managing director Colin Hutchinson said: “We don’t condone what Dennis did but its non-football related and the punishment will come through the courts.” A long-standing thigh injury finished off his wretched personal season as Chelsea finished a mediocre 11th in the table and the only highlight was a run to the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals before losing to eventual winners Real Zaragoza. This incident did effectively end his England international career as he wasn’t selected again for another four years.

Wise put behind him a troubled year and began to flourish again when Ruud Gullit arrived at the club, first as a partner in midfield for Dennis, then to manage the club following Hoddle’s departure to take the England job. It was during this period that he finally began to win silverware as Chelsea’s captain. He skippered them to victory in the 1997 FA Cup final against Middlesbrough, repeating this achievement three years later when Aston Villa were beaten in the last FA Cup event to be played underneath the Wembley ‘Twin Towers.’ In-between these two triumphs in his most specialised competition for success, Wise also skippered Chelsea to glory in the 1998 League Cup, 1998 UEFA Super Cup and 1998 European Cup Winners’ Cup. In the final against VfB Stuttgart, it was his wonderful pass that played substitute Gianfranco Zola through to score the winning goal in Stockholm.

His chequered career at Chelsea came to an end in the summer of 2001 when Claudio Ranieri sold him to Leicester City for £1.6 million. Ranieri was seeking to trim the average age of the playing squad. When he left, Dennis was ranked fourth in the club’s appearance history record, featuring 445 times, scoring 76 goals. He was crowned the club’s Player of the Season in both 1998 and 2000.

His one season at Leicester City was largely forgettable. He made just 17 league appearances, scoring once in a hapless team display against Liverpool FC which Leicester lost 4-1. The Foxes were relegated from the top-flight and in July 2002, he was suspended by the club for breaking the nose and jaw of teammate Callum Davidson during a bust-up on a pre-season trip to Finland. Wise was sacked by the club a few weeks later.

His Premier League playing career was over but that didn’t mean Wise dropped out of the limelight. He joined Millwall in September 2002 and became the club’s player-manager a year later. He experienced another FA Cup final but his Lions were no match for Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium, losing 3-0 in 2004. He resumed his playing career solely after leaving The New Den in the summer of 2005, experiencing one more season of second-tier action with Southampton and Coventry City before hanging up his football boots in 2006.

He had time back in management with both Swindon Town and Leeds United and in January 2008, became Executive Director at Newcastle United. His role was being tasked with travelling around Europe and further afield identifying young players and developing the academy. However, Kevin Keegan’s departure in September 2008 after clashing with the board over player transfers saw the fans target owner Mike Ashley and Wise, believing they were behind Keegan’s decision to go. He left his role in April 2009 and disappeared from the game for several years.

In 2017, Dennis returned to our screens, appearing on the ITV reality show ‘I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” Despite some accusations of bullying from the press at a fellow contestant, he came out of the programme with enhanced creditability and has since contributed occasionally to Premier League coverage on Sky Sports. He has become a regular on Sky’s daily evening chat programme, ‘The Debate.’

Dennis Wise packed plenty into his life and career in football. There was rarely a dull part about one of the game’s most combustive and intriguing characters of the 1990s.

Premier League Files: Clint Hill

Premier League Career: Queens Park Rangers (2011-2013, 2014-2015)

Clint Hill made 72 Premier League appearances across three campaigns for Queens Park Rangers. The tough-tackling central defender is still playing professionally in 2018 – now playing for Carlisle United in SkyBet EFL League Two.

It has been a professional career that has already spanned 20 years. Hill made his breakthrough with his local club Tranmere Rovers in 1997. He made 140 appearances across five seasons at Prenton Park and was involved in some epic cup runs under John Aldridge’s management. This included Tranmere’s surprise appearance at the 2000 League Cup final. It ended in personal pain for Hill. Not only did they lose 2-1 to Leicester City; he was sent off too.

He moved to Oldham Athletic in 2002 but a broken leg in a League Cup tie away at Crystal Palace restricted him to just 18 appearances for them. He moved to Stoke City a year later but injuries again played a part in failing to make a significant impact. He made 80 appearances across five years in Staffordshire and was shipped out on-loan to Crystal Palace during Stoke’s promotion-winning season to the Premier League in 2008.

He made the move into a permanent stay in January 2008 and enjoyed his best spell of football since his Tranmere days. Immediately liked by Neil Warnock for his uncompromising approach towards tackling, Hill stayed with the club until July 2010, when he joined Queens Park Rangers on a free transfer. Warnock had taken over as manager at Loftus Road a few months earlier as Palace were struggling financially and he wasted no time in making Hill an integral part of the QPR defence. He ultimately enjoyed promotion to the Premier League in 2011.

His Premier League bow was not one Hill wants to remember. A head-butt on Bolton’s Martin Petrov saw him sent off as Bolton won 4-0 at Loftus Road. Warnock decided to allow the centre-back to join Nottingham Forest on a three-month loan deal in September but he was recalled early and then became a regular in the team when Mark Hughes succeeded Warnock as manager in January 2012.

Two months later, he thought he’d scored his first Premier League goal away at Bolton Wanderers but it wasn’t given by the officials. Television replays confirmed the ball had crossed the line from Hill’s header. He admitted he was “gutted” by the decision.

QPR survived on the final day of the season despite losing 3-2 to Manchester City and Hill was awarded the Player of the Season by both the fans and his fellow teammates. This prompted the hierarchy to offer him a one-year contract extension which he accepted.

It was another season of struggle in 2012-2013 for Queens Park Rangers. Harry Redknapp succeeded Hughes in November and handed the captain’s armband to the veteran, taking the captaincy away from Ji-Sung Park in the process. However, Hill’s heroics couldn’t prevent QPR from relegation in April 2013.

He remained as skipper on their return to the Championship and helped the Hoops to promotion via the play-offs back to the Premier League for the 2014-2015 season. He finally got his first Premier League goal with a header in a 3-3 draw with Aston Villa but once again, the campaign ended in relegation for the club.

Hill was released in 2016 and spent a season in Scottish football with Rangers, even scoring an equaliser in an Old Firm Derby at Celtic Park. He joined Carlisle United in the summer of 2017. Playing football is something Clint Hill has always been passionate about and by continuing at fourth-tier level in England, this demonstrates his desire to still compete even as he closes in on his 40th birthday.

Premier League Files: Ryan Shawcross

Premier League Career: Stoke City (2008-PRESENT)

When Stoke City took to the field for their opening Premier League match away at Bolton Wanderers in August 2008, there is one player who remains firmly part of the club. Skipper Ryan Shawcross played all 90 minutes that afternoon in the 3-1 loss to the Trotters. Shawcross has been an integral model of Stoke’s consistency in the top-flight which is in severe jeopardy this season as they endure their toughest time as a Premier League club.

A persistent back injury in recent seasons has limited Shawcross to only a handful of appearances but there is no question that when he is fit and playing, Stoke look a far more organised outfit at the back.

Shawcross began his career with Manchester United but never made a league appearance for the club. He only featured twice in low-key League Cup ties against Crewe Alexandra and Southend United. He spent some time on-loan at United’s feeder foreign club, Royal Antwerp in Belgium before first linking up with Stoke in the summer of 2007.

He made a brilliant start to his life in Staffordshire, scoring the winner on his debut for the club against Cardiff City before netting in a League Cup game at Rochdale which Stoke would lose on penalties. Initially on-loan to the club, his excellent performances meant the Potters were very keen to turn this into a permanent transfer. Sure enough in January 2008, Stoke paid Manchester United £1 million to acquire Shawcross’ services on a permanent contract and he helped them achieve promotion to the Premier League in May, as Stoke finished runners-up in the Championship to West Bromwich Albion. He was named in the Championship PFA Team of the Year, alongside Stoke colleagues Liam Lawrence and Ricardo Fuller.

Although he started that match at Bolton on the opening weekend of Stoke’s Premier League journey, Shawcross found it tough to break into the first-team in the club’s first few months as boss Tony Pulis preferred to play his summer arrival, Ibrahima Sonko. Sonko’s dreadful performances though saw him dropped in mid-November and Shawcross then scored valuable goals in Stoke’s push towards survival, including a winning effort against Middlesbrough in March that transformed their season. Stoke finished a fantastic 12th and Ryan’s performances had been noted by several other Premier League sides.

He scored on the opening weekend of the following season against Burnley and his impressive performances continued. In February 2010, Fabio Capello called him up to the England squad for the first time for the international friendly with Egypt. It should have been a day of celebration but it turned out to be a day which saw Arsenal fans never forgive Shawcross for a tackle that is among the worst the Premier League has ever seen.

Midway through the second half, Shawcross took a heavy touch and caught Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey just above the ankle as he stretched for the ball. Ramsey collapsed to the ground on contact and in a similar situation to the injury that befall Eduardo two years earlier, television broadcasters opted not to show replays as it was so gruesome. Ramsey sustained a horrific leg break which would keep him out of football for a year and referee Peter Walton had no option but to send Shawcross off. He departed the pitch shaken and in tears. Pulis defended him afterwards, telling BBC Sport: “It is a bad challenge but I know Shawcross. He has got no bad blood in him whatsoever and there is no way in a million years he would ever go out to hurt anybody. I really mean that.”

Shawcross apologised via a text message but it left a bitter taste with many Arsenal supporters after previous sickening injuries to both Eduardo and Abou Diaby. Things could have got more awkward between Shawcross and Ramsey when Chris Coleman tried to persuade Ryan to switch international allegiances from England to Wales in 2012 but Shawcross rejected the proposal as he had still hoped to make an international breakthrough with The Three Lions.

Away from this dark moment and Shawcross’ performances continued to be strong, consistent and excellent. He took the captain’s armband in 2010-2011, replacing Abdoulaye Faye in the role and led Stoke out at Wembley Stadium for the 2011 FA Cup final, although they would lose the showpiece event 1-0 to Manchester City. Three years later, he became the first Stoke player to reach the total of 200 Premier League appearances as he continued to retain the captaincy even after Pulis’ departure in 2013. 2013-2014 was arguably his best campaign in a Stoke shirt, as they finished in ninth position in the table and he was chosen as the Player of the Year by his teammates.

He scored their first goal of the following campaign to rescue a 1-1 draw with Hull City and also netted the first Premier League goal of 2015, scoring from a corner in the draw against his former side, Manchester United. A month later, he sustained a back injury which has become a nagging issue over the past three seasons and although he is still firmly a regular in the team, his physical presence has been hindered because of this injury.

There was speculation that Ryan would sever his ties with Stoke in the summer of 2017. About to enter the last year of his contract, Burnley were linked with making a £10 million bid which Stoke dismissed as just “absolute baloney.” On transfer deadline day, Shawcross penned a new four-year contract which will keep him at the club until 2022.

After 10 years of loyal service to Stoke City, Ryan Shawcross is one of the club’s greatest players and certainly their most influential person in their Premier League story.

Premier League Files: Neil Redfearn

Premier League Career: Barnsley (1997-1998), Charlton Athletic (1998-1999), Bradford City (1999-2000)

In a playing career that spanned an amazing 24 years, Neil Redfearn made 790 appearances in the Football League which is the fifth highest of all-time. He also got the opportunity to feature in three Premier League campaigns for three different teams and has also experienced a taste of management, albeit not too successfully for either Rotherham United or Leeds United.

Redfearn began his career with Bolton Wanderers in 1982. It would take another 15 years before he managed to reach the limelight of Premier League football. During this time, he would play for Lincoln City, Doncaster Rovers, Crystal Palace, Watford and Oldham Athletic. The main highlight of his first decade playing was helping Oldham reach the top-flight of English football in 1991. However, the signing of Mike Milligan from Everton meant he was deemed surplus to requirements by the Latics management and he would sign for Barnsley that summer.

Seven seasons at Oakwell would follow, during which he became the club’s regular penalty-taker and captain. In 1996-1997, Barnsley surprised pretty much everyone by reaching the Premier League, finishing second behind Bolton Wanderers and earning promotion. Redfearn was the key figure that season, contributing with 17 goals.

His position in Barnsley folklore was secured when after nine minutes of their opening match in the Premier League; he headed home their first goal at this level against West Ham United. West Ham recovered to win the match 2-1 but Redfearn made an impressive impact on the top-flight. Days later, it was his long-range strike from distance that secured the Tykes first-ever victory in the Premier League away at Crystal Palace. Redfearn finished with an impressive 10 goals and only missed one match in the entire campaign. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep Barnsley in the division. This made him a wanted man and he would move on from Yorkshire in the summer of 1998.

Newly-promoted Charlton Athletic paid £1 million for Redfearn’s services, as he ended his Barnsley career with 84 goals in 338 matches. He scored three times in 30 games but as his family struggled to settle in London, his stay at The Valley would be restricted to just a single season. He returned to his native Yorkshire and joined another newly-promoted team in Bradford City a year later. He struggled at Valley Parade, scoring just once against Leicester City before going on the move again, this time to Wigan Athletic. He ended his playing career in the non-league in 2008 with Salford City.

Management has been less successful, winning just 16 league matches combined with Leeds and Rotherham. He was out of work from February 2016 until December 2017 when he became manager of Women’s Super League Two side Doncaster Rovers Belles.

Iconic Moments: Gullit drops Shearer (August 1999)

Going into the Tyne & Wear Derby between Newcastle United and Sunderland, Ruud Gullit was a worried man. Newcastle had made a dreadful start to the campaign, conceding 11 goals in their first four matches and only collecting one point in that time too.

It was rumoured that a power struggle was developing at the club between the Dutch manager and his skipper, Alan Shearer. Shearer had been sent off on the opening day during a home defeat to Aston Villa and missed the home game with Wimbledon three days earlier due to suspension.

For a clash as big as this in the north east, it was expected that Shearer would come straight back into the line-up but Gullit decided to throw the dice and make the biggest decision of his managerial career. He left Shearer on the bench and Duncan Ferguson too. If it paid off, it would be an inspired move. If it didn’t, he would surely pay the price.

On an evening where the weather would have been more pleasant for ducks, Newcastle led at half-time but goals after the interval from Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips helped Sunderland to a 2-1 victory. Both Shearer and Ferguson had arrived on the pitch by that stage but the damage had been done.

Gullit defended his selection afterwards but it was clear he had lost the support of the fans. He had lost the battle and quit 48 hours later. He hasn’t managed in the English game since.

Premier League Files: Tom Heaton

Premier League Career: Burnley (2014-2015, 2016-PRESENT)

Tom Heaton has been captain of Burnley since 2015 and his outstanding performances last season helped the Clarets’ avoid relegation from the Premier League for the first time at the third attempt of asking. Heaton has done very well to bounce back from early disappointment at Manchester United and several loan spells.

Born in Cheshire, Heaton actually began his career in Wales with Wrexham before signing as a trainee with Manchester United in July 2002. After impressing in the club’s reserve line-ups, he made his first-team bow with Swindon Town during a loan deal in the 2005-2006 campaign. He saved a penalty on his debut and played 20 times before being recalled.

A four-year period of insecurity followed with loan spells dotted around all over the place. 21 appearances with Cardiff City in 2008-2009 was his best period away from Old Trafford and with Edwin van der Sar still keeping goal, it became clear to Heaton that he was going to have to leave Manchester United permanently to further his career.

He returned to Cardiff City in July 2010 on a free transfer. His performances in his first full season back at Cardiff were enough to win him the club’s Young Player of the Year award. The 2011-2012 campaign was more frustrating as he played understudy to David Marshall. Nevertheless, Heaton demonstrated his importance in the team’s surprising run to the League Cup final. He saved two penalties in the semi-final shootout victory over Crystal Palace, before saving Steven Gerrard’s effort in the final itself. Sadly for Heaton, Cardiff lost the shootout to Liverpool FC and despite his heroics; he couldn’t usurp Marshall from league duty. Although offered a new contract, he decided to turn it down and leave the Welsh capital, joining Bristol City.

He was viewed as one of the club’s better players during a nightmarish 2012-2013 season which saw the club relegated from the Championship with the worst defensive record in the division. Again, he was offered a new deal and rejected it, leaving to stay in the second-tier with Burnley in May 2013. He was Sean Dyche’s first signing since taking over as Burnley boss and on his arrival; he said Heaton was a “good technician” with a “great pedigree.” Following the departures of Lee Grant and Brian Jensen that summer, Heaton immediately became the first-choice goalkeeper and having been an unfortunate part of the worst defence in the Championship a year before, he was part of the best Championship backline in 2013-2014. He kept 19 clean sheets and only conceded 37 times as Burnley returned to the Premier League for the first time in four years.

He played every single minute of the 2014-2015 campaign and was voted by his teammates as the Club’s Player of the Year. Despite some brilliant individual displays, Burnley’s lack of goalscoring pedigree meant they bravely went straight back down to the Championship. In June 2015, he signed a new three-year contract to stay at Turf Moor and with Jason Shackell departing for Derby County, Heaton was appointed as the new skipper. He kept 20 clean sheets; the second-best record in the Championship and was voted into the division’s PFA Team of the Year as Burnley went undefeated from Christmas 2015 onwards and earned promotion straight back to the Premier League.

He signed another new contract that summer and produced a series of wonderful displays, including a Man of the Match performance to deny Manchester United at Old Trafford. He made 11 saves in the goalless draw, including a flying mid-air stop to prevent Zlatan Ibrahimovic from scoring.

A dislocated shoulder sustained in an innocuous incident against Crystal Palace in September 2017 has meant Heaton has spent the majority of this season on the sidelines but he will regain his status between the posts when back to full fitness. He will also harbour hopes of making England’s World Cup squad in Russia in summer 2018.

Premier League Files: Angel Rangel

Premier League Career: Swansea City (2011-PRESENT)

Angel Rangel has spent the majority of his professional career at just one club, Swansea City. His loyalty was rewarded in November 2017 when he was made club captain by Swans’ manager Paul Clement, replacing Leon Britton who moved into a player-assistant role.

Born in Catalonia, Rangel played for several clubs in Spain but never in the top-flight of his homeland country. In the summer of 2007, fellow compatriot Roberto Martinez brought him to Swansea for an undisclosed fee. Since then, Rangel has been a prominent part of Swansea’s journey into the top-flight and beyond.

When he joined the Welsh side, they were in League One. He had an excellent debut campaign in British football, scoring twice and being one of five Swansea players to feature in the PFA League One Team of the Year. Swansea were promoted as League One champions, ending a 24-year exile outside the top two leagues.

He continued to feature prominently in Swansea’s teams during their Championship days under the guidance of Martinez, Paulo Sousa and then Brendan Rodgers. It was under Rodgers in 2011 that Swansea made their breakthrough into the Premier League, beating Reading 4-2 in the Championship play-off final. During that summer, he signed a three-year extension to his contract.

In August 2012, Rangel scored his first Premier League goal, opening the scoring in Swansea’s 3-0 home win over West Ham United. He scored three goals that campaign in the top-flight. He’s only got four in his PL career. His most recent strike was a crucial one as it won Swansea three vital points against Crystal Palace in January 2017 – Clement’s first game in charge as manager.

On the announcement of becoming captain, he said: “I never thought I would end up as a captain, but I am proud and honoured and full of enthusiasm after being given this chance.”

Now 35, Rangel only featured once in the first 11 games of the 2017-2018 Premier League season but his experience and guile will be important as Swansea face another difficult campaign at the wrong end of the table.